236 Pender St East,
07 Mar–06 Jul 2024
07 March, 2024
T. +1 604.683.7395
16 January–03 February 1990
Curated by: Nancy Shaw
What sort of images are recalled from the dreams of travellers? What are the visions that pilgrims return with from the land of the dead? The postcards sent, the snapshots processed upon arrival home, testify to an uneasy presence in foreign territory – proof of occupation taken by an unreliable witness. But the veracity to which these images attest (Leroy was here) also uncovers a lite which hides itself as Truth. For with the photograph, those authentic experiences and original moments promised by the travel agent and the touristic brochure are revealed as fraudulent as they are factual. Its not so much that the Mayan ruins don’t exist- certainly the photograph confirms their existence – but that their obscured history how so precisely relies upon mystification for its existence- and this too is what the camera concedes. The photograph invents a life just as it erases the traces of an other.
The photographs of Nancy Frohlick work within this paradox of truthfulness and lies, of actual evidence and inventive explanations. her pictures of ruins scavenged by tourists bring to the fore the contradictions inherent in the double mediation of tourism and photography. both entail strategies of power and knowledge which are based upon methodologies of documentation and appropriation. Both render the thing dead in order to bring it to life: the guide book encapsulating a history of demise; the photograph creating death for a second. Momontary immobility is necessary in order to fix and isolate the complexities of an existence. A memento-mori must be tailored to fit into the palm of the hand. Only then may the stories begin to be told: after the fact.
The stories which Frohlick’s photographs narrate are at once banal and disquieting. the common-placeness of holiday snapshots, their everday self-evidence, is superseded by an ephemeral quality which blurs what we think we may have seen. the stories we may tell with these photographs are constantly interrupted, contradicted, and renounced by other tales. As viewers of these photographs, we are forever looking to grasp something absolute, something knowable, but we are continuously deferred in this task. Our eyes cannot rest long upon one identification or one truth in the image. These photographic tales are not discrete, self-contained creations. Rather, like the stories which we construct for ourselves, they are stories without resolution; timely and tenuous stories whose authorities are constantly put under question.
Frohlick’s photographs operate precisely upon the contingency of meanings and truths constructed for and by ourselves. In this sense, it is not only the authenticity of the tourist’s sight. Is that with which we return with-not only the souvenirs, the relics found and bought, but the experiences – authentic? It is this volatile tension between the fictional and ‘the real’ a tension which in fact creates experience and allows it to name itself, which Frohlick takes as her agenda. Her photographs ride this edge between the dreamed and the known, the process which allows the traveller to tell her tale upon arrival home.
These photographs are filled with empty spaces of the unknown: doorways blackened by the sun. Still, despite the tropes of adventure which inform our travels, the people pictured here avoid the domain of shadows. Has this darkness yet to be scripted by a guide? Or is this compliance with the requirements of touristic discourse; for again, mystification necessarily demands an absence in order to make its presence known. There are always spots which we cannot photograph, sacred ground upon which we cannot tread, and this denial is as meaningful as the allowances made. Those places with we cannot possess, by means of camera or text, are those which incite our imagination and provoke the awe suitable to such a place. They too are part of the ceremonial agenda.
Frohlick’s photogrphs make use of such ahllowed gloom, but not to reify the venerated tombs of the dead. Rather, the darkness here acts to illuminate the limitations of our knowledges and explanatory systems.
These phtographs in effect invite us to come to temrs with what is unknowable and unpresentable; in many ways they push us agains the limits of representative tales, while allowing us to ackonwledge that which we would rather ignore: that the complexity, difficulty, and opacity of a past and place, remains- as alway- beyond representations’ reach.
Brochure by Beth Seaton